Driving is the biggest safety concern we address with our patients. There is also no topic that elicits stronger emotions than hearing concerns about your ability to drive. At some point in our lifetimes, almost all of us will have to stop driving. But we can have productive and positive conversations about driving, as long as we acknowledge the elephant in the room.
Why is it so difficult to talk about our driving? It’s fraught with emotion. Think back to how it felt when you first got your license. You felt like a “real” adult. You can probably recall songs that played on the stereo while cruising with friends. The deep-rooted sense of accomplishment when you bought your first car. Were you the first in your family to drive? Over the years, the privilege of driving is gradually taken for granted, feeling more like a right. It became a necessity to get us to jobs, allowing you to provide for your family. Flat tires, road trips, first dates, drive-in movies and endless commutes, we did a lot of growing up behind the wheel.
Then one day, someone who cares about you (medical, friends or family) want to talk about your driving. You likely felt upset, defensive and even angry. It sounds like they are taking away your independence and freedom, as if you have been irresponsible. It may feel like we are getting old and are no longer purposeful. You do not want to have to depend on others for the smallest errand! No wonder it’s emotional to discuss!
Now step back and try to come at this from the perspective of Take Charge!, the proactive philosophy we teach our patients and families at Memory Center Charlotte. It takes courage and integrity to discuss and, when appropriate, make the decision to stop driving. It is one of the most responsible things anyone can do in their later years. In taking initiative when it comes to your driving safety, you put caring for family and others on the road ahead of ego and natural desire to avoid this reality of aging. An accident or close call which could force the issue, but deciding to stop driving before that occurs protects not just the health of everyone involved, but also your financial assets.
What can I do?
- Start the conversation and Take Charge! of this major life decision. Trust loved ones’ concerns if they bring up the topic. They are always hesitant to do so, not wanting to upset you.
- Periodically reassess your driving. Getting lost, scrapes, tickets, accidents, “close calls” in parking lots or on the roads can signal a need to reassess driving. Let your doctor know any concerns, and request an evaluation. Discussing driving allows you to maximize safety while on the road, and is not reason for you to necessarily stop.
- Ask about tips that can keep you safer on the road. Preventing problems will allows you to continue to drive safely. Avoiding rush hour, using GPS, limiting night driving can all be considered. Newer cars have features including warning sounds when a car is in your blind spot and rear viewing cameras, which can maximize your safety while driving.
- Recognize conditions that can affect your ability to drive safely: arthritis, lack of strength or flexibility, hearing impairments, slower reaction time, altered vision and depth perception. Medications can cause drowsiness.
- Trust your gut feeling. If you are anxious or stressed when you are behind the wheel, consider it signal that it is time to talk.
- Acknowledge that the effects of alcohol are different on the aging brain. You may have been able to drink one beer and drive perfectly, but this may no longer be the case.
- Unfortunately, the combination of mild decrease in driving ability and distracted drivers due to cell phone use on the road increase risks dramatically. Not everyone is paying attention around you.
So that’s it? I’m trapped?!
NO! Today there are many options for affordable transportation- keep an open mind.
Saving on car payments, repairs and car insurance will allow you to save money for leisure activities, eating out, in-home services like housekeeping pr meal preparation, or healthcare costs.
Test run several options before driving becomes an issue. It is a great way to lessen the emotion and stigma you may feel. It may take a few times before you “enjoy” being a passenger, feeling less stress and starting to enjoy letting others take the wheel for a change while you take in the view.
- Try traveling by train, bus or plane for out of town trips. Unfamiliar roads and driving at night increase risks of getting lost and accidents.
- Requesting rides with Uber, Lyft (both on smartphones) and Go-Go Grandparent (uses a landline phone) are easier than you might think, once you get the hang of it (and much more affordable than personal driving services). A tech-savvy neighbor, friend or family member can set it up and teach you.
- Ask friends or acquaintances if they know of personal drivers in your area – many people, especially retirees, want to earn a little money while helping others. Religious centers often have volunteers willing to give rides to seniors or know of lower cost driving services.
- County transportation services are available for medical appointments. Call 311 for more information.
- Hiring a personal driver is an option, and enables you to build trust and relationships over the years or use as needed.
We hope this information helps you Take Charge! of your driving and talk about this elephant in the room.